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Newly Hired Leader Says Columbus Zoo Meets Most Accreditation Standards, Welcomes More Scrutiny

Tom Schmid
Tom Schmid

Newly hired CEO and President of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Tom Schmid said he knew about the loss of the zoo's accreditation by the National Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) before taking the position. However, Schmid said he was surprised by the move.

“Everything that I know about the zoo, and I’ve known about the zoo prior to this and certainly what I’ve learned over the last several months indicates to me that the Columbus Zoo is meeting or exceeding, virtually all of the AZA’s accreditation standards,” Schmid said.

Zoo officials responded to the report Wednesday in a press release which said they will appeal the AZA decision. They said the negative parts of the review were based on a now-disbanded ambassador animals program that used animals for TV and other appearances.

The AZA also was concerned about the mismanagement of funds by former leadership.

Former CEO Tom Stalf and former CFO Greg Bell resigned in March after an investigation found they allowed relatives to live in houses owned or controlled by the zoo and sought tickets for family members to zoo events. Those issues are still under investigation by the State.

“Maybe we could have had a little bit stronger governance structure,” Schmid said. “You know it’s very difficult when you have one executive doing this, but when you have two and they can collude that’s exceedingly difficult to catch sometimes.”

Schmid said he already has seen positive changes.

“A number of internal policies and procedures have been enacted to make sure nothing like this happens again,” Schmid said. “And I’ve actually spoken directly with the Chairman of the Zoo Board as well. And I certainly know that I will be under more scrutiny which I welcome.”

Schmid said an appeal of the AZA decision is appropriate.

“I’m firmly behind the existing staff there as well as Jerry Borin who is our interim CEO in terms of filing this appeal,” Schmid said. “We want to make sure they (AZA) understand our case and our perspective, and we’ll just see how it plays out.”

The AZA did commend the zoo on 17 of its procedures for its animal operations.

“We’ve got to do a better job of sharing with the public how we care for the animals, how we monitor their welfare and their wellness, and what we’re doing to help animals in the wild,” Schmid said.

The zoo has until October 30 to appeal the AZA’s decision. If that fails the zoo can apply again for accreditation in September 2022.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.